Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow

Author: Michelle Cuevas

Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publication Date: September 12th, 2017

Publisher: Dial Books

Synopsis: Smoot the shadow has been living a yawn-filled life for years. His boy never laughs and never leaps, so Smoot never does either… until the day he pops free and decides to hit the road in search of the life he dreams about. And as he enjoys his first colorful day–singing, dancing, and playing–other shadows watch him, and they become brave too. The frog’s shadow takes the shape of a prince, the dragonfly’s shadow that of a dragon. Even the rock’s shadow gets in on the excitement. But what will become of the timid beings their shadows have left behind? Will they finally be inspired to find their own daring?

Reminiscent of the classic story of Peter Pan, both in its use of shadows and celebration of imagination, SMOOT is the perfect representation of the desire we all have to “sing canary-yellow songs” and “dance in wildflower red.” This remarkable picture book’s uplifting message is sure to inspire readers to break free from the mold and live their lives to the fullest.

Smith’s stunning illustrations, which are a seamless complement to Cuevas’s poetic verses, beg to be shared in read-aloud settings and during bedtimes routines. Offering a light-hearted and important lesson about the value of imagination, being brave, and following your dreams, SMOOT has all of the makings of a modern fairy tale and is bound to become a read-aloud favorite.

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Smoot is a really powerful and enjoyable children’s picture book with a strong message that is important for even the youngest children to remember.  The message that this joyfully illustrated story sends out it to be sure to be true to yourself, enjoy life, and have fun.

Smoot is a shadow that belongs to a boy who doesn’t have much fun – he doesn’t laugh, run, or play, and it makes Smoot long to  have these kinds of feelings.  He wants to have fun and enjoy himself, but he can’t – unless he decides to break away from the boy and have all kinds of adventures of his very own.  So he does.

The adventures he has are exciting, and they also make the other shadows around him decide that maybe they should break away from their animals and people, too – allowing them to also go on all kinds of adventures, change shape, and explore the world.

Eventually though, the shadows find themselves causing too much of a ruckus.  But will they go back to the people and animals that they came from, and perhaps teach them how to be more exciting and how to enjoy life more?

I really loved the whole theme of this book.  It’s such a fun read, and the illustrations really go great with the story, making the whole reading experience a happy one.  I loved reading about Smoot and seeing what he would do next as he explored his world and had such a good time.

The ending of the story is also a happy one, which I was thrilled about.  It’s simply an exciting read with big, colorful pictures that will delight both young and old.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole

Author: Michelle Cuevas

Publication Date: September 12th, 2017

Publisher: Dial Books

Synopsis: When eleven-year-old Stella Rodriguez shows up at NASA to request that her recording be included in Carl Sagan’s Golden Record, something unexpected happens: A black hole follows her home, and sets out to live in her house as a pet. The black hole swallows everything it touches, which is challenging to say the least – but also turns out to be a convenient way to get rid of those items that Stella doesn’t want around including, all the reminders of her dead father that are just too painful to have around. It’s not until Stella, her younger brother, Cosmo, the family puppy, and even the bathroom tub all get swallowed up by the black hole that Stella comes to realize she needs to face her grief head on.

Successfully combining science-fiction and the raw emotions of grief, THE CARE AND FEEDING OF A PET BLACK HOLE is a story that will stand out to readers in terms of both its ingenuity and poignancy. In the same way that Pixar’s Inside Out personified its protagonist’s emotions, the representation of Stella’s grief in the form of a very real black hole that follows her home allows for equally moving, comedic, and memorable moments in Cuevas’s latest novel.

In addition to opening up opportunities to discuss grief and emotion, teachers and parents will also be fans of the real scientific elements that Cuevas has incorporated into this story. While many elements of the book are fantastical, Cuevas has included real physics and astronomy components which will allow this book to be incorporated into STEM-themed lesson plans.

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This heartwarming and sometimes funny book is the perfect book to settle in with when you need a pick me up or a tale that will make you smile.  While there is some sadness within this book, it also has plenty of humor and fun parts that will make you happy and give you all kinds of feelings.  It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a read for middle graders, and I absolutely adored it.

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole deals with grief in a way that makes sense to kids – a black hole that represents the pain that the main character in the book feels.  While this might make you feel sad (and parts of this book are kind of tear-jerking), the way that this is dealt with opens up the ability to make the discussion about grief easier for younger children.  It’s portrayed in a way that makes a lot of sense, and in a way that a younger audience can relate to.

The amount of creativity that went into this book is amazing – you will be blown away by how original this is.

Another thing that I LOVE about this book is the fact that it deals with a lot of science and space related information, making it more than a great novel – it’s also quite informative.  I also believe that it’s one to help support children and teenagers achieve their dreams in any kind of science, chemistry, or math related subjects – definitely a bonus!  I can see teachers including this in their recommended reading for middle graders, or even as a part of books that they decide to cover in their classrooms (if I were a middle grade teacher or librarian, I would be pushing this one, that’s for sure).

It’s easy to appreciate the author’s fun writing style that combines difficult subjects with humor to keep you smiling.  The writing in this book flows nicely and I was able to finish this in one sitting because I simply loved it so much.

The Care and Feeding of a Black Hole is one that you definitely should not miss if you enjoy reading middle grade fiction.  I’m so glad for the chance to  have read it, because it made me look at things differently, and allowed me to remember that no matter how dark things look, there is always a light.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review- Thank you!

Michelle Cuevas graduated from Williams College and holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Virginia. She is the author of several children’s books, including Confessions of an Imaginary Friend and The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles. She lives in Berkshire County in Massachusetts





Sydney Smith was born in Nova Scotia and has a BFA in drawing and printmaking from NSCAD University. He is an award-winning children’s book illustrator whose work can sometimes also be found in magazines and on festival posters and album covers. Sydney also plays a little banjo, stands on his hands, and can ride his bike really fast. He lives in Toronto, Ontario, with his wife and baby son

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